The report is the result of a partnership between Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and United Voices of the World (UVW), two grassroots trade unions organising and supporting workers in low-paid and insecure sectors of the economy.
The research, which surveyed 337 IWGB and UVW members, found that the key employment issues experienced were not being paid wages owed (44% of participants), being exposed to Covid-19 through work (17%), being asked to work in ways that felt dangerous, including with poor social distancing or without Personal Protective Equipment (12%), and being forced to work despite being ill (8%). There were also significant levels of redundancy (33%), excessive workload (11% saw an unpaid increase in their workload) and an increase in cases of sexual harassment, as employers exploited power imbalances heightened by the pandemic.
The report also notes that there are significant barriers to accessing social security measures, partly because of how these measures are designed and partly because some migrant groups are excluded from accessing support because of their residence status. When social security is not available, accessible or sufficient to cover the cost of living, people become more dependent on their jobs and less able to defend themselves against poor treatment. This report provides a basis for understanding why a well-functioning social security system is critical to preventing labour exploitation and outlines the key changes needed to ensure that the UK's social safety net does not fail the growing number of people in low-paid and insecure work.